The devastating Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns and explosions in 2011 could have been prevented, a Japanese high court concluded Wednesday, in a ruling that triggered about US$9.5 million (¥1 billion) in damages for thousands of residents who lost their livelihoods and could also lead to further compensation claims.
The 3,550 plaintiffs “were forced to flee their homes after a magnitude-9 earthquake triggered a tsunami that devastated the country’s northeast and crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant, known as the triple disaster,” The Guardian reports. “Radiation that spewed from the plant’s melted reactors contaminated the surrounding areas, forcing about 160,000 residents to evacuate at one point. More than 50,000 are still displaced because of lingering safety concerns. The plant is being decommissioned, a process expected to take decades.”
Nearly a decade and 13 lower court decisions later, this week’s ruling held the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) negligent “for failing to take measures to prevent the 2011 nuclear disaster,” the UK-based paper adds. The ruling doubles a compensation claim imposed by a lower court in 2017.
The government hasn’t said whether it will appeal the ruling, and Reuters said TEPCO spokespeople were unavailable for comment. In court, the government had said the tsunami couldn’t have been predicted, while the utility said it had met its compensation requirements under government guidelines.
But “the court said the government could have taken measures to protect the site, based on expert assessments available in 2002 that indicated the possibility of a tsunami of more than 15 metres,” The Guardian writes.
Now, “we ask the government to extend relief measures as soon as possible, not only for the plaintiffs but for all victims based on the damage they suffered,” said the plaintiffs’ head lawyer, Izutaro Managi, who declared the decision a major victory.
Additional claims may be in the offing because “thousands of other residents evacuated as reactors at the coastal power station overheated and released a radioactive cloud, following the devastating tsunami,” The Guardian writes. Only some of them have since returned home.
While plaintiffs said the ruling brought “some justice”, the paper adds, their lives will never be the same. “For more than nine years, I have planted seeds on the contaminated soil and grown vegetables, always worrying about the effects of radiation,” said farmer Kazuya Tarukawa, a plaintiff from the Fukushima area. “Our contaminated land will never be the same.”